- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

JERUSALEM A Palestinian blows himself up, killing Israeli soldiers, along with women and children.
An Israeli missile kills a militant leader Israel holds responsible for the attack, along with women and children who happened to be nearby.
And out come the scorecards in a grisly battle of numbers.
Beyond the tragedy of shattered lives, the death toll is part of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, with each side contesting the other's version to portray itself to world public opinion as the greater victim.
The meaning behind the figures depends in part on one's view of who is a combatant and who is a bystander.
With both sides raising questions, the Associated Press re-examined the death toll to better determine how many people have died in the more than two years of fighting that followed the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks, and to say with more certainty who the victims were.
After a recount of all the fatalities since Sept. 29, 2000, and in some cases renewed investigation of their circumstances, AP found that 1,934 persons had died on the Palestinian side and 678 on the Israeli side as of Monday.
The numbers are based on more than two years of AP reporting, including interviews with doctors, relatives and witnesses, visits to hospitals and morgues, and statements by both sides' security forces.
Government and unofficial agencies on both sides also keep count, and their totals vary somewhat, reflecting some disagreements about what kinds of deaths to include.
But more profound are the disagreements about which types of casualties constitute "combatants" and which are "innocent civilians" labels that enable each side to try to portray itself as the greater victim. That debate has been played out on editorial pages and Web sites around the world, in studies by think tanks and in the Israeli and Palestinian streets.
Israel's Foreign Ministry says no more than 45 percent of the Palestinian casualties of the conflict were "noncombatants," people who were neither involved in hostilities against Israel nor members of Palestinian armed groups.
But the Palestine Monitor, a think tank that tracks the violence, says 85 percent were "civilians" and appears to include in that category all those who were not members of the Palestinian security forces, even if they belonged to various armed groups.
As for the Israeli casualties, there is little dispute that most were civilians, although determining an exact number is difficult because the two sides disagree on who fits into that category.
A total of 309 Israeli dead, or about 45 percent, were killed in suicide bombings, and scores more were killed in shootings.
Jewish settlers, while making up 3 percent of Israel's population, constitute almost a fifth of the casualties: 131 persons, some of them teenagers like Koby Mandell and Yossi Ishran, stoned to death in May 2001.
To Israelis it was a slaying of innocent children but they lived in the settlement of Tekoa, and to many Palestinians, all settlers are legitimate targets and combatants because their presence greatly complicates and potentially blocks the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
In all, 71 Israelis and 265 Palestinians younger than 18 have been victims of the violence, including an 8-year-old Palestinian boy shot in Nablus on Monday. These figures don't include Palestinian teens who carried out suicide and shooting attacks or attempted to do so.
A total of 191 Israeli soldiers have been killed, 38 of them in Palestinian attacks inside Israel while off-duty. Palestinians tend to count them as combatants anyway. Israel a nation where the overwhelming majority were at some point conscripted into military service vigorously rejects that classification.
Yet Israelis also tend to see the other side's security services as combatants, especially because Israel has insisted that the Palestinian Authority is involved in terror in some cases directly and in others by its inaction. Palestinian officials say 258 police or other security personnel have been killed by Israeli fire.
To Palestinians, attacks on police and security buildings are Israeli aggression and more evidence that Israel is being disingenuous when it demands the Palestinian police crack down on militants.
For example, on Dec. 4, 2001, Israel responded to a series of suicide bombings by Islamic militants that killed 26 persons by sending F-16 warplanes to drop bombs on a Palestinian security building in Gaza City.
The attack killed one undisputed noncombatant 15-year-old Mohammed Abu Shokeh, who fled a nearby school with hundreds of other students but what of security services member Mohammed Ahmed Siam, 25, who also was killed? He is not known to have had ties to militant groups or a history of attacking Israelis.
It also can be difficult to categorize those killed in what Israel has called "targeted attacks" on Palestinian terrorists which Palestinian officials label assassinations.
Israeli forces have killed at least 82 Palestinian militants by methods such as rigging their phones to explode or rocketing their cars and homes. Such strikes from the air, sometimes in densely packed neighborhoods, also killed 52 bystanders.
In these strikes, it's not always clear exactly who was killed intentionally. Some of the dead were not intended targets but bodyguards or others somehow associated with the targeted militants. Can they be said to have been "targeted"? Were they noncombatants? And others were plainly just civilians in the wrong place.
Beyond such specific disputes lies a wider disagreement about the legitimacy of different kinds of actions whether terrorism is ever justified, what constitutes "state terrorism," whether there can be a "moral equivalence" between various types of actions.
Even many Palestinians who oppose suicide bombings in Israel sometimes express some understanding of them, noting the Palestinians are a people under occupation who are vastly outgunned by one of the world's most powerful militaries and using what few means they have to level the playing field.
Consequently, the Palestinian Authority's statements condemning suicide bombings are generally careful to declaim the killing of civilians on all sides which is meant to underscore that Israel is no less guilty.
Like many Israelis, Lilach Hershkovitz-Presser rejects that approach. "I don't think that there is moral equivalence in any way," said the 31-year-old. "The Palestinian suicide bombing is aimed at innocent people with no discrimination. Targeted killings are aimed at terrorists. And if a civilian does get killed, it is only by accident."
She added that armed Palestinians purposely endanger civilians and children by using them as human shields.
Palestinians counter that Israel too often takes action that clearly will carry a civilian toll, and this has chipped away at the effectiveness of Israel's argument that civilians are not the intended targets.
"Do you think that this is a fair enough answer for the families of those innocent people who were killed [that it was] a mistake?" asked Hani Al-Hassan, the Palestinian official in charge of security. "What Israel is doing is state terror," he said, while attacks on Israelis are carried out by militants who "do not represent the Palestinian Authority nor the Palestinian people."
The radically opposing viewpoints can dictate the reaction to the detailed breakdown of the death toll AP periodically publishes, in which the various categories included on each side are spelled out.
One point of contention, for example, has been AP's decision to include in its Palestinian death toll the 89 suicide bombers a count that includes several bombers who failed to kill anyone else.
Critics have charged that because the death toll is widely perceived by readers as a tallying of victims, these clear cases of attackers sacrificing their own lives should be left off to avoid giving a false impression.
However, it would be difficult to justify leaving the suicide bombers off while including the roughly 100 Palestinians killed while staging other types of attacks such as infiltrations of Jewish settlements which in some cases seemed no less suicidal.
And the inclusion of undisputed Palestinian attackers can be seen as balanced by the inclusion in the Israeli death toll of soldiers who died in combat waging a battle the Palestinians see as an attack in its own right, such as door-to-door searches for militants in refugee camps in which civilians often have been killed.
The Palestinian toll also includes at least 56 Palestinians who were killed by Palestinian mobs and firing squads on suspicion of collaborating with Israeli authorities further underscoring that the count should not be viewed as a straightforward "victimization" of one side by the other.
The AP regularly reports the detailed breakdown of casualties, in which it includes collaborators and other exceptional categories. Sometimes it suffices with an overall figure for each side, because the exceptions do not add up to sufficient numbers to significantly skew the totals.
Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups and research institutions have published similar counts to AP's, but there are some differences.
Palestinians tend to count about 70 people they say died of illnesses because they could not get medical treatment because of curfews and long waits at checkpoints. AP does not include such cases.
The review of AP's death toll found that past miscounts had inflated AP's Palestinian count by 88 and the Israeli count by seven. In most cases, the mistakes occurred during the tumultuous period in the spring when Israel began a major military operation and conditions at Palestinian hospitals were chaotic.
Part of the death toll revision came from a renewed look at the Palestinian casualties in Nablus during 18 days of heavy fighting in April. The earlier count was based on Palestinian figures that the AP has determined included 12 cases where people died of medical conditions or road accidents.
For example, the heart attack death of 72-year-old Ahmed Assali on April 5 was recorded by Nablus' municipality as conflict-related because of claims his health was worsened by the death of his son, Abdel Nasser, 28, in cross fire a day earlier while standing on the doorstep of their home. Mr. Assali's death now does not appear in AP's count.
Other differences arise about whether to count foreign nationals, such as British U.N. official Iain Hook, who was shot by Israeli troops on Friday in the West Bank town of Jenin, or Romanian guest workers killed by a Palestinian bombing in Israel near the Gaza Strip. The AP count includes these deaths.
Palestinian Medical Relief, an umbrella group for health care organizations in the West Bank, has counted 2,020 dead on the Palestinian side through Thursday. The group does not keep an Israeli toll.
Israel's International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, a think tank with strong ties to Israel's security establishment, counted 1,780 Palestinian and 667 Israeli dead through Sunday. The institute says it hasn't been able to count all the Palestinians killed by Palestinians as reputed collaborators with Israel.
The institute says 80 percent of Israel's dead are noncombatants and includes in this category off-duty soldiers as well as settlers.
In June, the institute published a statistical analysis of the death toll under the title "An Engineered Tragedy," which said the Palestinians were encouraging youth to confront soldiers to increase the death toll among young people in a bid for sympathy.
Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat countered that the main issue is "trigger-happy soldiers and indiscriminate shelling" by Israel, which he termed "the most disproportionate use of force in the history of mankind."
Occasionally, people will step back and see the other side.
"When we see a woman crying over her child on television, for a moment we forget to ask whether she is a Palestinian or an Israeli woman," said Riham Abdulatif, a 28-year-old teacher from Ramallah. "Because a mother is mother."

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